The Federal Budget FY1991


The battle over the fiscal 1991 budget – which pitted Democrats against Republicans and sometimes the Republicans against themselves – took the entire 1990 session, locked the leadership into seemingly endless meetings, periodically exploded into nasty partisan name-calling, and delayed action on other pressing legislation.

Work was concentrated in a four-and-a-half month budget summit that extracted a heavy toll from both sides: President Bush retreated from his 1988 campaign pledge that he would not raise taxes, angering rank-and-file Republicans. House Democratic leaders were spurned by their members, who overwhelmingly rejected the product of the budget summit on the House floor.

In the end, frustrated and angry lawmakers were forced to stay in session closer to the fall elections than at any time since World War II before putting the finishing touches on a budget reconciliation bill, the centerpiece of the year’s fiscal work.

The result of their efforts was a budget package that promised to cut $42.5 billion from the deficit in fiscal 1991 and $492.2 billion over five years. The biggest cuts over five years came from discretionary spending, especially defense.

View from the Michel Papers

Bob Michel’s Legislative Director, David Kehl, participated in many of the budget summit meetings in the summer of 1990. His files contain, for example, notes from meetings on June 7, 14, 19, 21, 27, 28, and 29, a good indication of the frenetic pace of negotiations.

The attached three-page notes from the June 29 meeting convey both the flavor of the negotiations and the quality of the historical documentation – information about the budget appears throughout the Michel Papers.

Meeting participants: Senator Robert Packwood (R-OR), Congressman Leon Panetta (D-CA), Congressman Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Senator James Sasser (D-TN), Senator Pete Domenici (R-AZ), Congressman Richard Gephardt (D-MO), Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady, Robert Michel (R-IL), Congressman William Gray (D-PA), Assistant to the President Richard Darman (mis-spelled in notes), and Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV).

Source: Robert H. Michel Papers, Staff Series, David Kehl Files, Box 9, f. Legislative Issues. Budget FY91 (2).